Artist brings Sri Lankan art to life through a Kiwi lens


Artist Poorna Daundasekara's colourful Sri Lankan masks and a painting featuring a dancer in a Gurulu Raksha mask are on display at 222 Hardy St, Nelson.

Martin De Ruyter/Stuff

Artist Poorna Daundasekara’s colourful Sri Lankan masks and a painting featuring a dancer in a Gurulu Raksha mask are on display at 222 Hardy St, Nelson.

An ancient Sri Lankan art form has been given a Kiwi flourish in a central city exhibition.

Poorna Daundasekara‘s brightly painted wooden masks are on display for the next two weeks in the Make/Shift Cultural Conversations hub on Nelson’s Hardy St, alongside masks made by budding community artists.

Daundasekara, a graphic designer and artist who once ran her own fashion label, moved to Nelson last year to join her Sri Lankan husband.

While she waits for her permanent visa to be processed – something that could take a year – Daundasekara is unable to work. In the meantime, she is volunteering and making connections in her new home.

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In early October, Daundasekara ran a workshop teaching the art of Sri Lankan masks. While she created templates for artists to work from, the artists were free to create their own designs, giving the traditional art form a Kiwi flavour, something the artist appreciated.

“I think art is about integrating, it’s not about one culture.”

Sri Lankan masks have a long history. While they were once used to scared demons away, today they’re part of the country’s performing arts landscape. Masks are used in dance and theatre, taking the form of mythical creatures or depicting well-known Sinhalese characters.

Daundasekara grew up surrounded by the mountains, tea plantations, and green paddy fields of central Sri Lanka. The landscape is not unlike her new home, she said.

“It’s almost like Nelson, you wouldn’t believe it. I miss the paddy fields but the mountains we see are almost the same.”

The artist has plans to run more workshops in the future, including a paper fashion workshop for teenagers.

“I really want to contribute with my knowledge. I’d like to inspire teenagers and older people in creativity.”

You can find out more about Make/Shift spaces at makeshiftspaces.nz.